On Sunday Israeli police arrested 31 rightwing Jews who planned to demonstrate in the Old City, along with a West Bank Hamas leader who spoke at the holy site, but the mass demonstration pledged by organisers did not materialise.

The settlers, from the Revava (Multitude) movement, had showed up for a march organisers said would draw 10,000 to a site at the heart of the Middle East conflict and scene of bloodshed in the past.

But a blockade of all approaches to the shrine by police appeared to nip any trouble in the bud and only several dozen protesters actually tried to push their way into the site.

They shouted "Gestapo" at police and injured an officer with a thrown rock, but dispersed in mid-afternoon. Thirteen of those detained were minors and all were freed after a few hours.

'Sharon mistaken'

"We came here to show the world we are unable to pray even at our holiest place, the Temple Mount," Jewish protester Efraim Cohen, 21, a West Bank settler, said.

"But if (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon thinks it will be as easy to expel Jews from Gaza as he has dealt with us today, he is mistaken. The struggle will continue," he said, before being hustled away by police.

Police blocked all approaches to
the shrine to foil the Jewish rally

"I did not wait for a permit from the (Israeli) occupation. All Palestinians should come here to protect al-Aqsa from desecration by Jewish extremists," Yusuf said on Sunday before he was arrested.

The leader of Hamas in the West Bank, Hasan Yusuf, has been arrested by Israeli police after accessing the Haram al-Sharif dressed as an elderly cleric. 

Yusuf was later arrested at a checkpoint as he was returning to his home.

Thousands of Palestinian Muslims gathered inside al-Aqsa Mosque on Sunday to defend the site against a planned rally by a hardline Israeli settler group on Sunday which was foiled after Israeli police encircled the Old City.

Open sit-in

"Around 15,000 Palestinian worshippers have prayed the dawn prayer here," Yusuf told Aljazeera on Sunday. He said 3000 had spent the night there.

Palestinians are holding a sit-in
at al-Aqsa Mosque's compound

"We call on Arab and Islamic nations and all people to immediately move to save the blessed al-Aqsa Mosque," Yusuf said. "This is our soul, and a body can never live without a soul."

Yusuf said the gathering at al-Aqsa would continue indefinitely.

"We have announced there is an open sit-in. The battle will not end in hours or days. We have called on all our people in Jerusalem and the land occupied in 1948 to head towards al-Aqsa mosque," he said.

"Al-Aqsa mosque, Jerusalem and Islamic and Christian holy shrines are facing serious danger."

Demonstrations

Thousands of Palestinians across the Occupied Territories held demonstrations against the plans of the right-wing group.

Three children who were killed in
Rafah on Saturday were buried 

In Nablus around 3000 Palestinians carried pictures of al-Aqsa Mosque and some armed men fired into the air.

In Hebron around 1000 Palestinians marched and called for the protection of the holy site.

Thousands of Palestinians demonstrated against the plans of the Jewish rightwing group in Rafah, Gaza, as they buried the three children who were shot dead by the Israeli army on Saturday.

Attack fears

Security officials say they fear hardliners will attack the hilltop shrine, home to Al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques, with the aim of blocking the planned Gaza pullout.

Speaking to Aljazeera from Jerusalem, spokesperson for Israel's Foreign Ministry Dan Simon said the authorities were concerned by the unrest.

The settlers say they want the
right to pray in the compound

"We are actually sharing our worries with the people of the world and the Middle East", Simon said. "We are not dealing with this danger lightly."

Ten Israelis were arrested in the Old City, and 12 Palestinians were injured when Israeli forces fired tear gas and hit them with clubs at the gates of the Old City of Jerusalem, Aljazeera's correspondent in Palestine reported.

Palestinian groups had earlier threatened to abandon a de facto ceasefire with Israel if ultra-nationalist Jews went ahead with the march.

On Saturday, Islamic Jihad leader Muhammad al-Hindi warned that "touching al-Aqsa Mosque would set the entire region alight".

Trial run?

Although the pullout opponents' protest appeared to fizzle, Israeli police acknowledged the group achieved its goal of tying up the security forces.

Sharon is expected to discuss the
Gaza pullout plan with Bush

Organisers have said Sunday's event was a trial run for the summer's withdrawal, when they want to divert as many troops as possible from dismantling Jewish settlements in Gaza by forcing them to secure other areas, including al-Aqsa.

Thousands of police and soldiers will be mobilised to dismantle 21 settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank, starting in July.

The friction clouded Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to the US, where he is to meet President Bush on Monday to win a public endorsement for the Gaza pullout.

History of attacks

Al-Aqsa Mosque has been the target of several acts of arson and vandalism by Jewish ultra-nationalists.

In 1969, one of the extremists set fire to the Minbar of Salah al-Din.

A few years later, American Jewish extremist Allen Goodman attacked Muslim worshippers in the mosque, killing and injuring scores.

In the late 1970s, a group of Jewish activists tried unsuccessfully to attack and destroy al-Aqsa Mosque and the nearby Dome of the Rock mosque using weapons stolen from Israeli soldiers.

The men told interrogators they had hoped the destruction of the Islamic edifice would trigger violence and bloodshed on such a scale it would induce the appearance of the Jewish messiah, who would bring about salvation for the Jewish people and rule the world from Jerusalem.